Jon Huntsman appears to be coming to terms with the fact that he won’t be the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. Ordinarily, competitive candidates who still expect to win wouldn’t openly question their party’s sanity in an on-the-record interview.

In an interview Friday, the Utah governor turned China ambassador said bluntly that the GOP had lost its equilibrium in the Obama era but predicted it would eventually return to its bearings — and vindicate his own brand of pragmatism.

“I believe in the ideas put forward by Theodore White, the cycles of history,” Huntsman told POLITICO. “I believe we are in one such cycle. I think that cycle ultimately takes us to a sane Republican Party based on real ideas.”

Suggesting that the GOP currently is something other than sane isn’t the best way to win the support of Republican voters and may stir speculation that he’s preparing to launch a third-party bid.

Huntsman is probably confusing Theodore White and Arthur Schlesinger, but the larger point is what matters here. Huntsman returned from service in the Obama administration, working under certain assumptions about the state of his Republican Party. What he came to realize is that the GOP of 2011 and 2012 is just not where he thought it was.

This is a party so radical that an anti-abortion, anti-tax former governor who’s vowed to eliminate Medicare is considered a center-left candidate, unworthy of consideration.

Huntsman looks forward to the eventual reemergence of “a sane Republican Party.” I suspect he’s not the only one with that wish, but this is not the year for such a development.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.